The Dallas Stars ended their season a little sooner than expected. As the Western Conference top seed, they went to a Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues in the second round, only to lose 6-1 on home ice.
Questions surrounded the goalie situation for the Stars after the ugly Game 7 loss. Kari Lehtonen allowed three goals and was pulled after the first period. Antti Niemi was no better, allowing three more goals during his time on the ice.
Both goalies have two years remaining on their contract, and there’s talk of possible trades or buyouts. While that may still be the case for Niemi, Stars general manager Jim Nill insists it’s not an option for Lehtonen.
“No, we’re not buying him out,” Nill told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “That last game is not a full reflection of the season. Nobody remembers the game before where he stood on his head. He’s disappointed, and the team is disappointed.”
“The game before” that Nill’s referring to was Game 6 in St. Louis where Lehtonen stopped 35 of 37 shots, doing his part to send the series back home to Dallas for the pivotal Game 7.
Lehtonen’s performance in the final game isn’t just on him, but his postseason numbers were far from impressive. In 11 post-season appearances, Lehtonen has a .899 save percentage and 2.81 goals-against average. What’s also worrisome is that his worst years statistically during the regular season have been the last two years. He finished this season with a .909 save percentage compared to being .920 plus during the seven of his nine previous years.
So if Lehtonen stays, what about Niemi? His career numbers have been up and down, and he’s owed $4.5 million over the next two seasons. Would that make him a buyout candidate? It would save the Stars $3 million in each of the next two years, but could cost them $1.5 million in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Don’t forget, The Stars have Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp slated for unrestricted free agency in 2017-18.
It will be interesting to see how the Stars manage their goaltending situation, on the business side and on the ice. It does appear however that Lehtonen will stay in Dallas.
Written by C. James